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William Henry Valpy (1793-1852)

In his day the richest man in New Zealand

William Henry Valpy'Judge' Valpy was a key figure in early Otago. After a career in India as a judge he had retired to England in 1836. Poor health prompted him to emigrate to the fledgling settlement of Otago in search of a healthier climate. He arrived with a large extended family, and a full retinue of servants, on the Ajax in early 1849. He was then supposed to be the wealthiest man in New Zealand and brought with him such useful colonial accessories as a sawmill, a flourmill and a large supply of money. He was the first settler on the south Dunedin flat, taking up large areas of land. He named his properties 'Caversham' and 'Forbury', after places in Reading, England, associated with his family.

Valpy's farms were an important source of employment for many early settlers. He also paid for the construction of the first road to the beach at St. Clair, establishing a branch line off the main road south to his home. His road endures to the present as Forbury Road. But Valpy was an Englishman and an Anglican in a Scots Presbyterian settlement. When the colonial government appointed him to a seat on the Legislative Council in Wellington, overlooking the leaders of the Otago Settlement, Valpy came in for sustained attack. Greatly shocked by the abuse directed at him, and with no respite from the ill health that had brought him to Otago, Valpy died in September 1852.

(Illustration, Otago Settlers Museum Collection)

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